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Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2012 Apr 15;302(8):R903-16. doi: 10.1152/ajpregu.00555.2011. Epub 2012 Feb 8.

Cerebral perturbations during exercise in hypoxia.

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  • 1Laboratoire HP2 (U1042 INSERM), UF Recherche sur l'Exercice, Hôpital Sud, Ave. Kimberley, 38 434 Echirolles, France. sverges@chu-grenoble.fr


Reduction of aerobic exercise performance observed under hypoxic conditions is mainly attributed to altered muscle metabolism due to impaired O(2) delivery. It has been recently proposed that hypoxia-induced cerebral perturbations may also contribute to exercise performance limitation. A significant reduction in cerebral oxygenation during whole body exercise has been reported in hypoxia compared with normoxia, while changes in cerebral perfusion may depend on the brain region, the level of arterial oxygenation and hyperventilation induced alterations in arterial CO(2). With the use of transcranial magnetic stimulation, inconsistent changes in cortical excitability have been reported in hypoxia, whereas a greater impairment in maximal voluntary activation following a fatiguing exercise has been suggested when arterial O(2) content is reduced. Electromyographic recordings during exercise showed an accelerated rise in central motor drive in hypoxia, probably to compensate for greater muscle contractile fatigue. This accelerated development of muscle fatigue in moderate hypoxia may be responsible for increased inhibitory afferent signals to the central nervous system leading to impaired central drive. In severe hypoxia (arterial O(2) saturation <70-75%), cerebral hypoxia per se may become an important contributor to impaired performance and reduced motor drive during prolonged exercise. This review examines the effects of acute and chronic reduction in arterial O(2) (and CO(2)) on cerebral blood flow and cerebral oxygenation, neuronal function, and central drive to the muscles. Direct and indirect influences of arterial deoxygenation on central command are separated. Methodological concerns as well as future research avenues are also considered.

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